BEST JUKEBOX (2001)
Used to be that a jukebox was a window into a bar's soul. Old Wurlitzer machines that took nickels, dimes, and quarters could sometimes house a charming obscurity here, a potent standard there. Now that pretty much every joint has a fancy CD jukebox that contains greatest hits and reissue compilations, a paradox has taken hold: Diversity is king, while surprises are fewer and farther between. So, with that aesthetic shift in mind, let us define our criteria for this category, of which there are only two: 1) The jukebox must be relatively cheap; and 2) It must not contain a version of Jimmy Buffet's "Margaritaville." The jukebox at the Red Dragon--an Uptown favorite that boasts a palatable Chinese menu and a fine selection of giant, mind-erasing drinks--passes on the first point. A buck, as with most places, will give you three spins, but two bucks here will give you eight. From there it's easy to drift from a recent Jay-Z cut to a Tom Waits track, with an R.L. Burnside scorcher somewhere in the middle, and perhaps a Cheap Trick power ballad somewhere else. More important, perhaps because of the blaze-red retro carpeting and the toxicity of the cocktails, any sort of random selection seems to sit well with any crowd on any given night. But be there early, as folks take advantage of the two-dollar discount, and the queue fills up fast. One more thing: Don't waste your money trying to please the parrot-heads.